We have been setting up terrariums for our herps for a long time, and through a lot of trial and error, we have boiled it down to a fairly easy receipe for successfully creating an easy-to-maintain, attractive display terrarium suitable for housing dart frogs, mantellas, tree frogs and other amphibians. New products available for terrarium construction, as well as others kindly sharing their ideas has really elevated the popularity of constructing terrariums.
On this page, you will find some ideas to get you started if you are looking for a starting point, a list of materials you will need to create a basic terrarium, some advice on what plants and animals will do best in your terrarium, and a few supplies that we may be able to provide to get you under way. Please see our available
page if you are interested in any animals we have available for your vivarium. If
you are not sure about selecting a
reptile or amphibian for a pet or are looking for care sheets,
please return to the reptiles page.
Creating a terrarium needs a little planning and a few basic materials, and then the sky is the limit. A few things to consider pre-construction are 1) What are you going to keep in your terrarium? 2) What types of plants are we talking about here that will live in your terrarium conditions (main concerns here are light levels and moisture levels) 3) What type of lighting to use
1. Expanded Clay Pellets (LECA)
2. Fiberglass Window Screening and/or cut-to-fit carbon filter pad (made for aquarium filters)
Coconut Husk Bedding (EcoEarth or similar)
4. Wellaby Wood (or similar dense, rot-resistant wood), rocks, or other terrarium furniture, real or synthetic, and gravel or stone for a base for water areas
5. Water Pump if you want water flow (and necessary tubing)
7. Light fixture and bulb(s)
8. Terrarium container (most often a tank with a full glass top)
Let's Build it
A ten gallon fish tank with a full, hinged glass cover is an excellent starting point. You can, of course, use a variety of containers for this purpose. Wash out the terrarium (don't use any soaps or chemicals) and add a layer of expanded clay pellets (it's wise to rinse these first) to a depth of about 2 to 3 inches. If you are including a water pump, place it and the appropriate "plumbing" into the clay pellets now. Next, cut a piece of the fiberglass screening to cover the clay pellets. Leave some extra and fold it up the sides of the tank, this can be trimmed later. Next, use the cut-to-fit filter pad(s) to cover the screen where all of the land area will be in your terrarium. This step will help to hold the "soil" in place and act as a biological filter inside the terrarium. Cut notches where needed to accomodate any wiring or tubing associated with the pump. Now add the moistened EcoEarth soil and sculpt the "landscape" as you go. Different depths of soil create areas of different drainage to suit different types of plants. The essentials mentioned in this section can be purchased right from our products page where we offer some of the best products available for proper husbandry.
Now you can move on to planting your terrarium.
When considering what plants to use in your terrarium you will have to consider the light level, the humidity level, and the drainage. There are some nearly fool-proof starters here, some tough plants that really do well in a variety of conditions. It may be a good idea to begin with a few of these and then add different species that may be a little trickier as you develop your terrarium. Pothos, Peace Lilly, and Arrow Plants are a few broad leaf plants that will provide initial cover in your terrarium. Java Moss, Anubias, Sellaginella, and some Creeping Fig species can be used to fill in the "undergrowth". Once you get a clearer picture of how your terrarium is turning out you may consider "Air" plants, bromeliads, orchids and other epiphytic plant species. The amount and type of plant cover may be influenced by what you are going to keep in the terrarium, so a little research is needed to determine this.
But First, Let's Settle the Lighting?
To start out, my recommendation is to use compact flourescent lights or the screw-in coil bulbs in a regular dome style light fixture. The goal is to get a good amount of intense light to sustain the plants without generating a lot of heat that will kill your terrarium inhabitants (plants included). Some heat will be generated regardless of what type of lighting you use, but careful selection here will give you just the right amount of heat to recreate tropical instead of sauna!
Now Let's Consider the Wildlife?
Frogs, toads and salamanders are the usual considerations for the terrarium. They
have a unique natural history and
are an incredibly diverse group of
animals with a wide range of
colors and sizes. The maintenance
of these creatures will often
require just a bit more attention
to detail for successful long-term
maintenance. Be certain to research the requirements necessary for any species that you are considering. Due to the nature of
amphibians, the constant
availability of fresh, clean water
is vital to their survival.
Stagnant water can quickly become
toxic to an amphibian. A successful terrarium constructed in the manner outlined above can have minimal maintenance duties, but depending on how many creatures you have in the terrarium, it's size, and water cycle (by that I mean evaporation rate or lack there of, plant life, etc.) you may have to change out some water at the very least.